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Don Charlwood's Moving Account,
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This review is from: No Moon Tonight (Witness to War) (Paperback)
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Bomber Command's strategic bombing campaign during WW2, the crews who flew the bombers were involved in a brutal conflict where their chances of survival were minimal at best.
Don Charlwood came from Australia to fight in the RAF and after being initially trained in Canada came to England to finish his navigator training and was then assigned to 103 Squadron based at RAF Elsham Wolds (part of One Group). Flying Lancasters operationally with a crew from England, Wales and Australia - they faced the daunting task of surviving thirty operations to complete their first tour.
You can read as many histories of Bomber Command as you want, but nothing helps you to understand what the actual crews went through, like this book does. Reading as one after another, Don Charlwood's friends are cruelly cut down makes sombre reading, but stands as a testimony to their bravery and commitment.
You will learn about their superstitions, their closeness as crews, dicing, squadron life, the women who loved them and waited for their return, how death could strike seemingly anywhere to anyone. You will read with tears in your eyes how close friends are killed, the crushing impact upon Don Charlwood and how in one case he helps the new wife of one dead friend.
Don Charlwood shows how crews had their focus fixed, I would say obsessively, upon completing their tours and while they did at times consider the morality of what they were doing, that aspect of the bombing campaign does not seem to be at the forefront of their minds.
Methods used by Bomber Command to keep the crews in check is subtly explored. For example the constant threat of being labelled LMF (lacking moral fibre) which caused men to push themselves sometimes beyond endurance. Also when forced to return during an operation, or unable to go on an operation - even in situations completely beyond their control - the Wing Commander made the pilot pay with accusations of "being yellow" and worse.
On one occasion the pilot of Don Charlwood's aircraft was forced back due to engine problems. Once back at their base the Engineering Officer agreed with their assessment of the situation and stated that they had no alternative to returning. But the following morning the Wing Commander was furious & reported to Group that they failed to reach their objective through "lack of determination." The recommendations for commissions for the pilot and engineer were halted - through no fault of their own and without reference to the Engineering Officer.
Don Charlwood's book is not without its humour and one account stands out when the crews were watching the on-base cinema and are told during a film about road accidents that at the present rate of road accidents one out of every ten in the audience would be killed. Given the rate that the crews were dying it is understandable why the airmen fell about the cinema laughing at this statement.
If you only ever read one book about the men who flew bombers during WW2 for the RAF's Bomber Command make it this one because it is without doubt a very fine account indeed and rightly regarded as a classic. Don Charlwood has indeed not let the others down and has told the world about their sacrifices and the bond that existed between the "Twenty Men."